Defining a Genre…What’s a Space Opera?

We have now entered the release month of The God Queen. If you haven’t preordered it yet…what are you waiting for?! Also, Today I want to announce our upcoming Blog Tour during release week! Check out all the behind the scenes goodies I wrote on TGQ and they will be found not just on my sites, but on others as well!

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled blog post….

Whenever I tell people that I wrote a novel, the first question they ask is: what’s it about?

I usually start with, “Well….it’s called The God Queen, and it’s a space opera…” before diving into my elevator pitch. Then I receive the same response: furrowed eyebrows, head tilted slightly to the side, followed by the occasional biting of the lip before they dare ask: What’s a space opera?

At first, I found myself confused with the question. How can you not know what a space opera is? I mean, the concept has been around since the 1930s (although at the time it was coined as a derogatory term). Space operas have become more prevalent on television since the early 90s. It’s all around us and yet not everyone recognizes it for what it is. But when I tried to look up examples to give my inquirer a better idea (other than the obvious – Star Wars), I began to realize that the genre of space opera is almost as all encompassing as science fiction.

What do I mean?

Many are of the opinion that space opera is akin to “light” science fiction. They believe that the characters and plot take precedence over the science technobabble. I definitely fall into this category. I focus so hard on character relationships and plot that my story could easily take place anywhere: medieval fantasy, old west, or space. Of course, I chose space.

But others choose to look at the “opera” side and argue that a space opera is also about scope. Go big or go home. The bigger, the better. With this logic, Frank Herbert’s Dune is also counted as a space opera yet it is the poster child for “hard” science fiction. I also agree with this logic – I like creating a huge world where there are many stories to tell and not necessarily from one protagonist. The God Queen is only the first book in a much bigger world – there will certainly be more to come.

But which is true?

I figured the best way for me to define space opera is to go through and list my favorites that have helped me shape The God Queen.

1. The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

This is a classic favorite as I am also a sucker for retellings. This sci fi version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale of the same name takes place on a mostly oceanic planet called Tiamat, whose sun’s orbit a black hole, which facilitates a type of interstellar wormhole travel and connects Tiamat to the rest of the civilized galaxy (the “Hegemony”, the remnants of a fallen Galactic Empire).

Why do I love it? I cannot get enough of the love story between Moon and Sparks and Arienrhod is an amazing antagonist!

2. Darkover Saga by Marion Zimmer Bradley

World building at its best. There are 29 novels and several anthologies about the planet Darkover. She and Tamora Pierce are my heroes when it comes to this epic level of world building. A ship has crash landed on this remote planet where they don’t have the materials to repair their ships. This requires the people to start over and ends up in a medieval-esque world. There are so many periods of Darkover history, it’s hard to tell which is the right book to start with. I simply read them chronologically.

Why do I love it? Bradley showed me that you can still have swords, shields, and magic and still call it sci fi!

3. Behind the Throne by K. B. Wagers

Indian culture in space! This book is the first in a trilogy of a runaway princess who worked as a gunrunner for almost two decades before being forced back and become heir to an empire. Hail is one of my favorite heroines.

Why do I love it? It serves as a great reminder that we don’t have to use Euro-centric cultures in worldbuilding. Granted, I use quite a bit of German in mine, but they may not be all that obvious. But keep an eye out, I have plans of using my Peruvian background in future books! Peruvians in space!

4. A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna

Indian gods in space AND it’s a retelling!?! It’s no secret that I love this book. I wrote in my blurb that The God Queen is also for fans of this lovely space opera.

Why do I love it? It turns out, I wasn’t the only one who used the idea of real life meddling gods in an adventure across the stars. It is a beautiful fantasy set in space. Mandanna could have also told the same story in a traditional Indian setting (since it is a retelling of Mahabharata), but she chose to set it in space and thus breathing a fresh new take on this story.

5. Sky without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell

A space opera retelling of Les Miserables? Yes. Please. I had only read parts of Les Mis in high school but I am a huge fan of the musical – so I knew enough of the story to get a kick out of the references. It was enough without literally beating you in the face with it.

Why do I love it? Retellings. Obviously. These characters are so fleshed out, I could reach into the text and hug them.

6. Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

Sometimes I need a good romance. I love a good hate-to-romance trope if done well and Gray nails it! A religious warrior falling in love with a truly sentient AI is not what I expected and I am sure it could be a tired trope – but I loved it!

Why do I love it? I love stories that have a stable couple and seeing how they work together as a team against problems. We need more stories that glorify healthy relationships. Stories like Outlander or Defy the Stars that take the relationship beyond the “will they or won’t they” phase and focus on how they can be a powerhouse team! Naomi and Abel are great examples of that!

7. Amid Stars and Darkness by Chani Lynn Feener

A young woman from Earth is mistaken for an alien princess and has to bullshit her way into not getting caught! Talk about nail-biting tension! It begins the dialogue of “What happens when we discover that aliens are real and they want to live among us?” It’s the beginning of a trilogy that fully immersing you into an interesting and exotic new world filled with political intrigue and a decent love triangle.

Why do I love it? Delaney is a no-nonsense heroine who is not afraid to get into people’s faces. She needs that kind of moxey to survive the new world she was thrown into and that sort of courage is something that resonates to hard with me

8. Dune by Frank Herbert

Did you think I was going to skip this? One of the major themes the saga plays with is the creation of gods and messiahs and how far people are willing to go just to protect an idea. I am also a sucker for a good family saga and the Atreides are, by far, my favorite – although if you want an amazing family saga that’s NOT sci fi then read The Thorn Birds.

Why do I love it? This series is as epic as you can get and I will admit – you have to be in the mood for this beast of a story. It is not for light readers. I read it when I was 15 and the story still echoes through my soul even after almost two decades. For anyone interested in the most classic of sci-fi….go read Dune

9. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

Most people know this book from the movie version known as Blade Runner. Let me tell you: they are completely different entities and both are amazing. DADoES is a short story from which the movie very loosely takes its plot. Rick Deckard is still an officer hunting androids (or replicants) but he dreams of owning a real sheep one day instead of the electronic one he has. I am not kidding, this is in the story.

Why do I love it? I love how humans were already settling on other planets but it was a matter of not only having the money to do so but also having a minimal amount of radiation poisoning to even be allowed to leave Earth. Rick doesn’t have either and therefore must stay. It’s a good commentary on status symbols (along with the ability to own a real animal as opposed to an electronic one). I used this when I developed the history of the Tyre Star cluster….

10. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Another classic about a boy genius who rises through the ranks and becomes the general necessary to win a war they may have to fight someday. Ender Wiggin is a brilliant kid who may be the “chosen one” but has to learn to become great. While he does arrive on the scene practically perfect – he still has to learn because without that journey, the story would be unrealistic.

Why do I love it? I do find it interesting how it makes you question who is the real enemy by the end. So much of what we know is from propaganda fed to not only the characters, but also the readers. You realize how much of the world truly isn’t black and white but everything in between. I tried using that idea in The God Queen. There are enemies we are taught to hate – but should we really hate them?

Anyway, that’s my definitive list. What do you think? Comment below of your favorite sci-fi novels and tell me if you think they can also be considered space operas. In fact, do you have a different interpretation of what is considered a space opera? Let me know!

Are you interested in more? Check out more behind-the-scene goodies that will be introduced in the weeks leading up to The God Queen‘s release…

Check out the first four chapters

If you are already set in buying The God Queen go ahead and preorder

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